2023 Worlds Men’s 1500 Preview: Is There Any Way to Beat Jakob Ingebrigtsen?

It has been a long time since a miler has had the sort of season Norway’s Jakob Ingebrigtsen has enjoyed in 2023. The reigning Olympic champion has won all four of his outdoor 1500-meter races — all of them Diamond Leagues against the world’s best runners — by running the sort of consistently fast times we haven’t seen in a generation. Ingebrigtsen’s average winning time in his last three races is 3:27.94 — a time only five other men have ever eclipsed. Ingebrigtsen has broken 3:29 three times, the most in one year since Hicham El Guerrouj in 2002. If he can add a world title in Budapest, Ingebrigtsen’s 2023 campaign will go from historic to legendary.

But on the world’s biggest stage, fast times do not guarantee success in the 1500 meters. A Diamond League race, with its rabbits and programmable pacing lights, is not the same as a championship final. One need only go back one year for proof: in 2022, Ingebrigtsen set a world record in the indoor 1500, ran the fastest mile in 21 years, and owned three of the world’s four fastest times at 1500 meters. Ingebrigtsen won six of his eight 1500/mile races, but in his two biggest races of the year, he finished second: the World Indoor final in Belgrade and the World Outdoor final in Eugene.

Ingebrigtsen will enter the 2023 Worlds in Budapest as an even bigger favorite than a year ago, but the men’s 1500 is one of the most exciting events in track & field precisely because upsets can and do happen in global finals. Reigning world champion Jake Wightman won’t be at Worlds due to injury, but challengers such as American Yared Nuguse, Spaniard Mo Katir, and surprising Norwegian Narve Gilje Nordås (coached by Jakob’s father, Gjert) will be well aware of what Wightman did in Eugene a year ago. Can the world’s best miler claim the crown that eluded him in 2022? Or will the men’s 1500 deliver another shock? Let’s break it down.

Prelims: August 19, 1:02 p.m. ET
Semis: August 20, 11:35 a.m. ET
Final: August 23, 3:15 p.m. ET

History says it is hard to win from the front at Worlds…

All things considered, Jakob Ingebrigtsen is in a very good spot entering the World Championships. He’s won all four of his Diamond League races this year, and he has won them in style. Each time, Ingebrigtsen led off the final turn and was not challenged over the final 100 meters. Plus, the incredible aerobic engine that powered him to the world 5,000 title last year remains intact: he ran a world record of 7:54 for 2 miles in Paris on June 9 and made it look easy, splitting 3:52.2 from 1600 to 3200 and running his last lap in 55 seconds.

Article continues below player.

All of that makes Ingebrigtsen the favorite in Budapest, but it also paints a humongous target on his back. After Ingebrigtsen’s most recent race at the Silesia Diamond League on July 16, my boss Robert Johnson compiled a table showing the #1 seed at the last 12 global outdoor championships and how they fared at Worlds/Olympics.

Year Fastest SB at Worlds/Olympics Margin over #2 seed at Worlds/Olympics Finish at Worlds/Olympics
2007 Alan Webb (3:30.06*) 0.86 seconds 8th
2008 Augustine Choge (3:31.57) 0.07 seconds 9th
2009 Augustine Choge (3:29.47) 0.73 seconds 5th
2011 Silas Kiplagat (3:30.47) 1.29 seconds 2nd – Kiprop won and ended up the WL at 3:30.46
2012 Asbel Kiprop (3:28.88) 0.75 seconds 12th
2013 Asbel Kiprop (3:27.72) 3.05 seconds 1st
2015 Asbel Kiprop (3:26.69) 2.06 seconds 1st
2016 Asbel Kiprop (3:29.33) 1.16 seconds 6th
2017 Elijah Manangoi (3:28.80) 0.30 seconds 1st
2019 Timothy Cheruiyot (3:28.77) 1.39 seconds 1st
2021 Timothy Cheruiyot (3:28.28) 0.48 seconds 2nd
2022 Jakob Ingebrigtsen (3:29.65**) 1.02 seconds 2nd
2023 Jakob Ingebrigtsen (3:27.14) 1.75 seconds ???

*Converted from 3:46.91 mile
**Converted from a 3:46.46 mile

There are two ways to interpret the table above. On one hand, only four of the 12 top seeds wound up winning gold — just 25%. Not great for Ingebrigtsen. But look at the third column. The three men with the biggest lead on #2 — Asbel Kiprop in 2013 (3.05 seconds), Kiprop in 2015 (2.06 seconds), and Timothy Cheruiyot in 2019 (1.39 seconds) — all won gold. Ingebrigtsen’s gap to the #2 entrant in 2023, Mo Katir, is 1.75 seconds. There’s a case to be made that the gap between Ingebrigtsen and everybody else is too wide to overcome. We’ll get to that in a minute.

Ingebrigtsen has defeated all comers so far in 2023

Ingebrigtsen loves to run from the front and there is little reason to expect he will change his strategy in Budapest. And there are benefits to front-running a 1500. The leader runs the shortest distance, and there’s a smaller chance of being caught up in a fall. The leader is also in charge of the pace, and if you’re fit enough, you can eliminate a good chunk of the field by running fast. By making last year’s World Championship final into a 3:29 race, Ingebrigtsen only had to worry about racing a few guys on the last lap instead of trying to outkick everyone.

Of course, there is also a big downside to leading: drafting. LetsRun coaching guru John Kellogg estimates that running directly behind someone in a 1500 time trial is worth roughly a second a lap compared to running solo. It’s hard to translate that directly to a race like Worlds, where athletes in the pack aren’t always running directly behind someone and may have to run extra distance. But if someone can stay tucked in, close to the rail for most of the race, they’re generally going to save more energy than an athlete running in the front without anyone blocking the wind for them.

In five of the last six global 1500 finals, someone has tried to win by leading a majority of the race. On four of those occasions, they were run down in the final straight: Cheruiyot at the ’17 Worlds and ’21 Olympics, and Ingebrigtsen at the ’22 World Indoors and ’22 Worlds. Only Cheruiyot at the ’19 Worlds was successfully able to win from the front.

It is clear, then, that it requires a special athlete to win in a fast race from the front. It is not enough to be fitter than everyone else; you must be fitter and have an extra gap to account for the disadvantage of blocking the wind. Does the 2023 version of Jakob Ingebrigtsen meet that criteria?

…but Jakob Ingebrigtsen may be good enough to do it

Cheruiyot in 2019 is the only man recently to win a global 1500 title from the front (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images for IAAF)

Looking at the three men from the table above who were able to win Worlds as the #1 seed, the best comparison to Ingebrigtsen is 2019 Timothy Cheruiyot. That’s because Cheruiyot, unlike the big-kicking Asbel Kiprop, won the 2019 world title from the front.

When previewing the 1500 at last year’s Worlds, I noted that Cheruiyot was roughly 1.5-2 seconds fitter than everyone else in 2019, but that Ingebrigtsen might not have the same gap on the field in 2022 and could be vulnerable as a result. As it turns out, Ingebrigtsen’s world-leading season’s best of 3:29.02 was only .21 faster than Wightman’s winning time at Worlds.

The 2023 version of Ingebrigtsen compares more favorably with 2019 Cheruiyot. Ingebrigtsen’s gap on #2 entering Worlds is larger than last year (1.75 seconds to 1.02 seconds) and his season to date is similar to Cheruiyot before the 2019 Worlds. That year, Cheruiyot won five of six DLs before Worlds, while Ingebrigtsen has won four of four, and their margins of victory are similar:

2019 Timothy Cheruiyot in Diamond Leagues

Date Race Distance Cheruiyot result 2nd place/margin
May 3 Doha 1500 2nd, 3:32.47 N/A
May 30 Stockholm 1500 1st, 3:35.79 Ayanleh Souleiman, +1.51
June 30 Pre Mile 1st, 3:50.49 Ayanleh Souleiman, +0.73
July 5 Lausanne 1500 1st, 3:28.77 Jakob Ingebrigtsen, +1.39
July 12 Monaco 1500 1st, 3:29.97 Jakob Ingebrigtsen, +0.50
September 6 Brussels 1500 1st, 3:30.22 Jakob Ingebrigtsen, +1.40
Average margin (in wins): +1.11

2023 Jakob Ingebrigtsen in Diamond Leagues

Date Race Distance Ingebrigtsen result 2nd place/margin
May 28 Rabat 1500 1st, 3:32.59 Yared Nuguse, +0.43
June 15 Oslo 1500 1st, 3:27.95 Mo Katir, +0.94
June 30 Lausanne 1500 1st, 3:28.72 Lamecha Girma, +0.79
July 16 Silesia 1500 1st, 3:27.14 Abel Kipsang, +1.97
Average margin (in wins): +1.03

But if you’re looking for reasons why Ingebrigtsen is much more likely to win in 2023 vs. 2022, there are two big ones:

1) He’s running much faster than 2022

Pretty simple. Last year, Ingebrigtsen’s fastest time was 3:29.02. This year, he’s already run 3:28.72, 3:27.95, and 3:27.14. Fitter Jakob = better chance at gold.

2) He’s closing faster

Embed from Getty Images

Wightman’s win at the 2022 Worlds showed that Ingebrigtsen could be beaten. The Brit was strong enough to hang with Ingebrigtsen through 1300 meters, which allowed Wightman to attack Ingebrigtsen’s (relative) weakness over the last 200 — changing gears and kicking, with Wightman closing in 27.11 for his last 200 to Ingebrigtsen’s 27.34. This is easier said than done — most runners are not strong enough to hang with Ingebrigtsen through 1300 — but for someone with Wightman’s skillset, the Eugene final offered something of a blueprint for springing the upset.

The problem for the rest of the world: changing gears does not appear to be an issue for Ingebrigtsen anymore. I went through all of Ingebrigtsen’s outdoor 1500s over the last two years for which splits were available for the last 400, 200, and 100 (there was no final 100 split available for 2023 Oslo, but I included that race too). The numbers show that Ingebrigtsen is not just running faster overall; he’s closing harder:

Jakob Ingebrigtsen’s closes in 2022 and 2023

Race Time Last 400 Last 200 Last 100
2022 Zurich 3:29.02 54.9 27.1 13.6
2022 Lausanne 3:29.05 55.2 27.5 13.9
2022 Worlds 3:29.47 55.24 27.34 13.78
2023 Rabat 3:32.59 54.26 26.16 ?
2023 Oslo 3:27.95 55.0 27.3 13.4
2023 Lausanne 3:28.72 54.7 26.8 13.3
2023 Silesia 3:27.14 54.0 26.7 13.3

Rabat was the real warning sign to the rest of the world. Going into that race, the thinking was that if Yared Nuguse could keep it close through 1300, he might have the advantage over Ingebrigtsen over the final 200 just as Wightman did at the 2022 Worlds. And while Nuguse split a terrific 26.12 for his final 200, Ingebrigtsen was basically as good, going 26.16 despite looking over his shoulder twice in the home straight and easing up at the line. That was the quickest Ingebrigtsen has closed this year, but in his most recent race in Silesia, he ran his final 200 in 26.7 — and that was in a 3:27 race.

Embed from Getty Images

The bottom line: Ingebrigtsen is fitter than 2022, and one of his only weaknesses from last year no longer appears to be a weakness. How on earth do you beat this guy?

Once again, it’s worth revisiting that 2022 Worlds final. One of the reasons why Wightman was able to run down Ingebrigtsen is that Ingebrigtsen spent a bunch of energy on the third lap fighting off surges from Timothy Cheruiyot. The lesson should be clear. If Ingebrigtsen’s plan is to get to the front somewhere between 200 and 800 meters into the race and gradually ratchet down the pace, find a way to disrupt that plan. Throw in a surge at 1000 and force Ingebrigtsen to work harder than he wants to. Don’t let him have a smooth ride.

The problem with that approach is that anyone who tries a huge mid-race surge could wind up torpedoing their own race (remember, Cheruiyot faded to 6th last year). But against someone as good as Ingebrigtsen, there are not a lot of good strategies.

Will Jakob Ingebrigtsen win the 1500 at Worlds?

Your vote has been counted. Thank you!

The Challengers — Can Yared Nuguse earn the first American 1500 medal since Centro in ’16?

Ingebrigtsen is the clear favorite, but after him there are a dozen or so guys who could wind up on the podium in Budapest. In Oslo, just .58 of a second separated Mo Katir in 2nd (3:28.89) and Narve Nordås in 8th (3:29.47). In all, 11 men this year have broken 3:30 (nine of whom are running the 1500 at Worlds) and 23 have broken 3:32. Anyone who makes the final will have at least an outside shot at a medal.

Embed from Getty Images

The USA’s Yared Nuguse and Spain’s Mo Katir are the two guys who have been in the best form this year outside of Ingebrigtsen. Nuguse, 24, has been a revelation in his first full year as a professional with the On Athletics Club. He opened up 2023 with an American record of 7:28 for 3k indoors in January, followed that up with an American indoor mile record of 3:47 two weeks later and has shown no signs of slowing. He finished 2nd behind Ingebrigtsen in his Diamond League debut in Rabat, ran an American record* of 3:29.02 to finish 3rd in Oslo, and won USAs. In his last race before Worlds, he became the first American in 12 years to win a Diamond League 1500. Nuguse has the endurance to hang around in fast races and the acceleration to be a factor over the final 200. The main knock on him is that he has never competed in a global championship, but Nuguse has shown all year he can beat anyone in the world apart from Ingebrigtsen. He represents the best shot at an American medal in this event since Matthew Centrowitz won Olympic gold in Rio seven years ago.

Katir, the bronze medalist last year, has the fastest non-Ingebrigtsen time this year at 3:28.89, which he ran to beat Nuguse in Oslo on June 15. He’s also an aerobic beast as he ran 7:24 for 3k in February (the #2 time in world history indoors) and set a European record of 12:45 for 5,000 in Monaco on July 21. Katir does not have the best kick — 32-year-old Adel Mechaal bested him at the Spanish championships on July 30, 3:33.44 to 3:33.76 — but that may not be as important at Worlds, where the winning time should be sub-3:30.

Timothy Cheruiyot went 2nd-1st-2nd in the last three global championships before fading to 6th last year, which he attributed to a hamstring injury. His 3:29.08 season’s best places him firmly in the medal mix, but after a remarkable run from 2016-21 where he never finished lower than 3rd in a Diamond League, Cheruiyot has finished 4th (Oslo) and more recently, 8th (London) in his two DL appearances this year. He’s still one of the best in the world but not the overwhelming force of a few years ago.

Embed from Getty Images

Neil Gourley is the British champion and has actually come the closest to beating Ingebrigtsen of anyone this year, finishing .28 behind in the 1500 at Euro Indoors. Gourley may be better suited to a slower race, however, as he was only 10th in Oslo (despite running a pb of 3:30.88) and 6th in Lausanne (in 3:32.63). Most recently, he ran 3:30.60 for 3rd in London but he may need to chop off another second at Worlds to reach the podium.

A year ago, Narve Nordås was a relative unknown on the global stage, but he has become one of the most intriguing stories in the event this year. Until this year, Nordås had largely focused on longer distances, believing he did not possess the talent to become world-class in the 1500. He wound up making the Olympics and Worlds in the 5,000 the last two years, but after failing to make the final in either, Nordås switched his focus to the 1500 in 2023 and, at age 24, has dropped his pb from 3:36 to 3:29. Adding to the intrigue is that Nordås is coached by Jakob’s father and former coach Gjert Ingebrigtsen, who acrimoniously split with his son after the 2021 season (and was not granted a coaching credential for Worlds by the Norwegian federation). If Nordås’ dream season continues and he somehow springs the upset over Jakob Ingebrigtsen at Worlds, the country of Norway might lose its collective mind.

A few others in the medal mix:

  • Josh Kerr doesn’t race on the circuit as much as some of his rivals but he has run 3:29.64 this year and has finished 6th, 3rd, and 5th at the last three global championships.
  • Reynold Cheruiyot won the World U20 championships last year and just turned 19 on July 30. He has huge potential and was 3rd in Silesia in his DL debut but could be a year or two away from medalling.
  • The good news for Mario Garcia Romo is that he was 4th last year and has run even faster this season, with a pb of 3:29.18 in Oslo. The bad news is that he has only finished 6th, 5th, and 11th in his three DL appearances this year and almost missed making the Spanish team for Worlds (he was 3rd at the Spanish champs, .18 ahead of 4th placer Ignacio Fontes). That’s a testament to how strong the event is this year, both globally and in Spain.

The Other Americans

Kevin Morris photo

The US is sending a very young team to Budapest in the men’s 1500. Nuguse, who turned 24 in June, is the oldest member of the squad, joined by 22-year-olds Joe Waskom and Cole Hocker. Hocker is the only one with experience at a senior global championship, finishing 6th at the 2021 Olympics.

If this had been a championship in the 2010s, Waskom would be an intriguing dark horse pick for a medal. He has a strong record in championships and is a fearless racer. Remember, last year he put a huge move on Mario Garcia Romo to spring the upset at NCAAs — and Garcia Romo finished 4th at Worlds a month later. This year, he took it to Nuguse at USAs and had the lead with 60m to go until Nuguse rallied back. And he showed an impressive kick to win his European debut in Lignano.

The problem for Waskom is that in the 2020s, global 1500 finals are very fast and he may not yet be strong enough to run the 3:29 or 3:30 it might take to get a medal. It’s also been a long season for the collegian Waskom, though in the last two years we’ve seen guys in his position respond well to the leap in competition. In 2021, Hocker won NCAAs, entered the Olympics with a 3:35.28 pb and finished 6th in the final in 3:31.40. Last year, Garcia Romo was 2nd at NCAAs, entered Worlds with a 3:35.52 pb, and finished 4th in 3:30.20. Who’s to say that Waskom, who was 2nd at NCAAs and has PR’d in his last two races (3:35.32 at USAs, 3:34.64 in Lignano), couldn’t make a similar leap in Budapest?

Embed from Getty Images

Hocker, meanwhile, has the talent to one day contend for a medal at Worlds but may have run out of time in 2023 as he missed a significant chunk of training early in the year with an Achilles injury. Hocker didn’t open his season until June 4, and while he surprised himself by running 3:34 in that race, his fitness was still far behind the best runners in the world. Hocker has made gains over the past two months, running 3:32.14 in the London DL on July 23 — his fastest time since Tokyo. But that time was only good for 13th overall, 1.70 seconds behind winner Nuguse. Hocker will have had another four weeks between that race and the start of Worlds to get stronger but is it enough to close an almost two-second gap?

Will Yared Nuguse medal at Worlds?

Your vote has been counted. Thank you!

If Ingebrigtsen doesn't win, who wins gold?

Your vote has been counted. Thank you!

JG prediction: 1) Ingebrigtsen 2) Nuguse 3) Katir

It’s hard as hell to win a global final from the front but Ingebrigtsen is operating at a level right now that we have seen from few athletes in the history of the sport. And his “weakness” (changing gears) doesn’t appear to be much of a weakness anymore. The only way I see him losing is if he lets his ego get in the way and starts fighting people for the lead earlier than he needs to like he did in 2022.

Nuguse has yet to run a bad race in 2023 and has shown everything you would want to see from a future medalist. Outside of Ingebrigtsen, I don’t think there’s anyone better right now. But while there is a huge gap between Ingebrigtsen and everyone else, there isn’t much separating Nuguse from the next four or five guys.

The top Brit has medalled in each of the past two years and it would not shock me at all if Gourley continues that trend in Budapest. But I’ll take Katir for 3rd. He showed last year that he can medal and his 5k strength means he should be able to produce a fast time in the final even with two rounds already in his legs.

Talk about the men’s 1500 on our world-famous fan forum / messageboard. MB: Will Ingebrigtsen win the 1500? Official 2023 Worlds Men’s 1500 Discussion Thread

Want More? Join The Supporters Club Today
Support independent journalism and get:
  • Exclusive Access to VIP Supporters Club Content
  • Bonus Podcasts Every Friday
  • Free LetsRun.com Shirt (Annual Subscribers)
  • Exclusive Discounts
  • Enhanced Message Boards